Posted in Los Angeles, Travel

Paso Robles, Morro Bay and Hearst Castle – California Road Trip

Back in late August 2017 mum came to visit us in Los Angeles. As part of her visit we went on a mini road trip to California Wine Country, Morro Bay and a famous tourist spot: Hearst Castle.

Being August the temperature was in the 40C’s (100F) and bush fires were burning around LA. We set out in my car from Pasadena on Saturday afternoon and drove up the I-5 before heading cross country to Paso Robles – a town of many wineries. According to the car, the outside temperature on arrival was 46C/115F.

We headed to Le Vigne Winery which had been recommended to us. Glad for the extra-strong aircon inside the tasting room, we shared a simple tasting with a paired cheese (the “cheese flight”). The wine was fairly average, and the experience of standing up at the bar in a very noisy room was not great. Overall it was not a very interesting experience (for example, compared to a good experience at Pfeiffer Winery, Rutherglen, Australia), so we left fairly quickly and headed to our accommodation – Americas Best Value Inn in Atascadero, which was also not very interesting but was the only place for miles around that had any vacancies. Actually, the interesting thing about the Inn was that the guy behind the reception was so unbelievably rude that it amazed me the place was still in business.

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Le Vigne Winery
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The Cheese Fridge at Le Vigne Winery

Since Atascadero had a lake, we headed there for a walk before dinner. The lake was beautiful and the temperature had dropped to manageable levels. There were a few people jogging, and others strolling around. Back at the carpark we paused at the little zoo which had flamingos in an outside enclosure.

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Atascadero lake
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Flamingos – yes, they are real!

We had fish and chips for dinner at Pier 46 Seafood Market in Templeton. Afterwards we got beer from the local Trader Joe’s then headed back to the hotel for the night.

The next morning, Sunday, we drove towards San Simeon and Hearst Castle. The coast road was very scenic and strangely quite empty. We stopped off in Cambria to get closer to the water. Scrambling down a small cliff with limited stairs we found a rocky beach which was actually more rocks than beach. After looking at the water for a while we headed on to Hearst Castle.

We arrived at the visitor center at the base of the hill at opening time. Like pros we went straight to the gift shop to get postcards – something which is pretty close to impossible to find in Pasadena ­– then got coffee.

As we had prepaid our tour tickets online via the California State Parks Reservation System we thought we were all set, but little did we know that those tickets are useless without also going to, yes, the ticket counter, to get them exchanged for…tickets. This wouldn’t have been an issue if we’d known when we arrived and the line was non-existent. However, by the time we found this strange fact out the ticket line was literally out the door: 100 people long. Luckily once we had stood in the line for about 20 minutes we were good to go.

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Hearst Castle, as seen from the visitor center

We boarded the bus which drove us up the steep and winding road to the villa on top of the hill. On arrival we were greeted at a wide set of steps by a number of volunteers, all pleased to see us. Just for a second it was easy to imagine arriving as a VIP.

Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of the villa, and she took our group on the “upstairs suites” tour. William Hearst Sr. apparently loved to entertain guests at the villa, and had differently designed bedrooms for guests. We were amazed by the amount of European art and sculpture in each room. We also saw the spectacular dining room and library.

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Living Room
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Guest bedroom
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Another guest bedroom
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Library
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Dining Room
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View to the Pacific Ocean from inside the Villa

After the tour we were able to wander around the grounds. We enjoyed the piazza and the wonderful views before heading to the last stop which was the swimming pool, tiled in azure blue and gold leaf mosaic tiles. It looked so inviting it was hard not to jump in.

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Pond
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Guest suite?
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Piazza
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Hearst Castle swimming pool
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Hearst Castle swimming pool
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Hearst Castle swimming pool

That afternoon we drove to Morro Bay and arrived at our accommodation (Morro Crest Inn) to discover it did not have aircon. Luckily it was only 100F at that point so we had a cup of tea then went for a walk along the bay to look for birds and other wildlife.

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Black-crowned Night-Heron
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Seal
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Osprey

Along with various sea birds, sea otters and seals we saw a pretty spectacular sunset. We had dinner at Blue Sky Bistro and enjoyed the evening’s cooler temperatures.

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Sunset and Morro Rock
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Dinner – clam chowder

The next morning, we had breakfast at the same place then after checkout drove along the bay to spot the local sealions. These are extremely noisy creatures and we found a big group of them sitting on a yellow contraption in the middle of the bay, honking at each other. At Morro Rock we saw a great group of sea otters, and upon walking around the Rock we saw some interesting birds and lizards.

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Sealions
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More sealions
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Western Fence Lizard
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White-crowned Sparrow
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Black Phoebe
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California Ground Squirrel
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Sea Otters

After this we set our sights for Pasadena, heading along Highway 1 as much as possible. We stopped at Solvang on the way and found it to be a very touristy experience. We sampled the famous aebleskivers and were underwhelmed!

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Solvang

This was quite a low-key road trip as in total we drove about 550 miles in three days. I would like go back to Morro Bay to explore the area more, and I think Hearst Castle is an interesting place for out-of-town tourists – but I wouldn’t go out of my way for Paso Robles!

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Posted in Travel

Winter in London

After Geneva and a lovely Christmas at home with the family, J and I got the bus to London for a few days before our flight home to Los Angeles. As with everything London, even the experience getting there was an experience. The bus driver decided to go a different route to normal and we ended up getting stuck in rugby-match-day traffic around Twickenham. Eventually we arrived at Victoria Bus Station, only an hour late, and we decided to act like tourists and get a Black Cab to our hotel, the Marriott off Oxford Street. This proved to be an efficient but expensive way to travel.

Obviously the Marriott is a very expensive hotel but thanks to our rewards credit card we were able to stay there for 4 nights, in a club room, for free. So we checked in, dropped our gear in the small room, and headed down to the club for free appetizers and wine. On the way down we seemed to be constantly getting out of the way of beautiful people and their entourage laden with bags from Primark.

The next day we headed over to Brown’s Hotel for afternoon tea. When we are in London we make a point of trying afternoon tea at a different establishment, preferably the place voted best by the British Tea Society. Our first ever time was at Claridge’s in 2006 and that still remains the pinnacle of our experience. At Brown’s we scored a table right in front of the fireplace and over the next couple of hours stuffed ourselves with delicious scones, sandwiches and sweets, washed down with some convoluted but delicious tea. It was an excellent experience and to be recommended.

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Later that day we met up with my best friend from Australia who happened to be living in London at the time. Chantal brought along her two-year-old and we all walked over to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. On the way we spotted a Bugatti Veyron, a 1-million-pound car, parked in a dark corner with discreet body(car) guards nearby.

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Bugatti Veyron

The Winter Wonderland is basically a fun fair, with carnival type games and activities and some loud flashy rides. Because we had the two-year-old with us, our choices of activities were determined by her, but she seemed to have a good time.

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Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

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Later we took the Tube back to Hackney, where they live, and husband Damo picked us up and drove us back to their council flat, which is now worth about 5 billion pounds in this gentrified hipster suburb. We partook of some adult beverages and opened some Christmas presents and generally passed a pleasant evening.

The next day we had arranged to meet up again, this time at The Shard. Because it was a nice day (i.e. not raining), we decided to head there on foot. After breakfast at the hotel we set out to leisurely take in the sights on the way. We saw part of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, we crossed the Thames by the London Eye and walked along to Borough Market before arriving at the Shard.

London-walk

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People waiting to see the Changing of the Guard
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Whitehall

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We arrived at the Shard and went up in the elevator to the 35th floor. We were booked in for a late lunch at TĪNG, and we were seated on a kind of sofa-table situation – no luck on getting by the window, and had a rather expensive lunch but an excellent chat. We also got the opportunity to check out the view from the same floor. (Top tip if you are cheap: skip lunch and just go to this floor for a look!).

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The Shard
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View from Ting
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Lunch
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Lunch
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Sunset view
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Night lights of London

By the time we were done it was dark, so we took the Tube back to the hotel and collapsed in a heap.

The next day, our last in London, we decided to go out for a full English breakfast. Unfortunately, our chosen location was shut so we had to switch to plan B, which was a Lebanese place – Comptoir Libanais. Breakfast was spicy but delicious.

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Comptoir Libanais

Then, with J ready for some downtime, and me incapable of such a thing, I set off solo for a 5 hour random walk around London with my camera.

According to my Garmin I did 22,000 steps which is about 10 miles. I started walking east-ish down Oxford Street and after a while ended up near the British Museum. I stopped at a café nearby for a ploughman’s sandwich, then continued around to Regents Street then Piccadilly Circus. Then I decided to go to Harrods, so I wandered over and by the time I got there it was dark (4pm). It was absolutely packed inside, to the point where you could hardly make progress, so I quickly gave up and came back outside and spent some time being amused at the ridiculous traffic jam and the two Lamborghinis stuck in it.

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Regent Street
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Regent Street
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Picadilly Circus
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Walking to Harrods
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Harrods

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Then I headed back towards the hotel. I decided to go through Hyde Park because it would be more interesting, even though it was dark. It was also foggy which was excellent and made it very atmospheric. I could see the Winter Wonderland looming in the distance so I knew roughly which way to go. I exited the park at Marble Arch and went across the road to the McDonald’s to pick up dinner (a tradition of ours is to make sure we bring back McDonald’s to any 5-star hotel we stay at). The queue was immense but I got our food eventually. Then I headed back down Oxford Street to the hotel.

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Hyde Park

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Oxford Street

London is a great city to walk in, especially if you want to explore. Around every corner is something interesting or famous, and there’s always a Tube station nearby if you really get stuck. We thoroughly enjoyed these few days in London, even though it was freezing cold. The spirit of Christmas was still in the air which made it extra special. We will definitely be back.

Posted in Travel

Geneva: CERN and other things to do

In December 2016, after our trip to Zermatt and Montreux, we stayed with friends in Versoix, a pretty village with a little harbor on the outskirts of Geneva. During our short trip here we visited CERN, downtown Geneva, The Red Cross Museum and the Jura Mountains.

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Versoix harbor

CERN

Being science geeks, we were most excited about visiting CERN. Getting tickets was a bit of a palaver and involved stalking the website at a precise day and time. However, we succeeded and so on our first morning in town we got the train then the tram to CERN HQ. Aside from being freezing cold and having to passively smoke about 15 cigarettes, the journey was simple.

On arrival we were first invited to visit the Microcosm, the coolest part of which was a display of a full scale replica of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Then we gathered as a group in the lobby and followed our guide outside for a long cold walk to a nondescript building. Inside we learned from the guide about the history of CERN before heading through more doors to see CERN’s first particle collider. This was geek heaven for us and I was very impressed with the presentation of this somewhat esoteric topic.

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CMS in the Microcosm museum
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CERN’s first accelerator: the 600 MeV Synchrocyclotron

Back out into the cold we following our guide across the road, past a giant blob of a building (AKA The Globe of Science & Innovation) over to the LHC control building. Of course we couldn’t go down into the LHC – that’s just for VIPs – but we saw the control room from behind glass and watched a 3D presentation. We also saw a pretty awesome Lego model. The whole tour lasted a couple of hours and by the end we’d learned a lot.

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The Globe of Science and Innovation
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Mural depicting the ALTAS detector – 1/3 scale!
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Control Room
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Awesome Lego model

We headed back on the tram to the main train station and I used my very rusty French to get us a couple of sandwiches and hot chocolates at a café. Refueled, we went for a walk around town. We didn’t really know much about Geneva, having done precisely zero research beyond CERN, but I had procured a tourist map from somewhere so we wandered around admiring cobbled shopping streets and churches and alleyways until we arrived what was apparently the main attraction: The Big Fountain (known as Jet d’Eau). Having lived for five years in another city with a Big Fountain we just had a quick look then moved on.

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Geneva
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Geneva
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Geneva
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Jet d’Eau

Red Cross and the Mountains

The next day, our host took us to the Red Cross Museum. This was a sobering place with exhibits about disaster relief efforts and the organization’s role during WW2. We could’ve spent many hours there but our next agenda item was a drive into France and into the Jura mountains. Disconcertingly, there didn’t appear to be any border post between Switzerland and France. It was a grey day in Geneva, a common situation in winter, but we were heading into the mountains and soon we burst through the cloud layer into the blazing sunshine. Then almost instantly we arrived at our destination: the restaurant Le Refuge de Florimont.

Inside we were confronted with a thick smell of cooking meat. We were shown to a window booth in the sun and we rejoiced in taking off our coats and being warm. There were furs on the seats and light fittings made out of antlers. We ordered a dish that you cook yourself on a hot stone in the center of the table. It was delicious and not too complicated. There may have been ice-cream for dessert. After lunch we drove further up into the hills to a spectacular viewpoint.

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Geneva is under there…

That evening back in Geneva, our hosts took us to the neighborhood ice rink where we joined the locals in an evening’s skate. At one point the local ice hockey team coach came out and started batting a puck about, which the kids on the rink thought was awesome, until one of them fell over backwards and brained himself on the ice… (he was fine).

Not Easy Jet

It was a few days before Christmas when we left Geneva to fly back to the UK. We got the train from Versoix and arrived at Geneva airport two hours before departure. We were flying with EasyJet (never again) and we found ourselves at the back of the longest queue I have ever seen in an airport. It might have been a quarter of a mile long because, in their wisdom, all EasyJet flights back drops were in the same line.

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Horrible

It took us an hour to get to the bag drop and with that done we raced to security and were confronted with another gigantic line, but this time with all the people in the airport in it, and everyone being shameless about pushing in. After about 45 minutes we got through security and with 15 minutes until departure we ran through the terminal, briefly skidding to a halt at the passport check, and got to the back of the line as boarding started.

Summary

Geneva is an interesting place with a variety of museum-y and mountain-y things to do. CERN is a significant highlight for those interested in science. On the whole we enjoyed our trip to Switzerland, and I’m sure we’ll be back… perhaps in summer though!

Posted in Travel

Montreux and Chillon Castle

About a year ago we were in Switzerland, hoping for a snowy holiday. Instead we just had perfectly clear skies and freezing temperatures. I wrote about the first part of our trip, to Zermatt, in this post. This post follows on from that, taking us to Verbier, Montreux and Geneva.

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Ski run at Zermatt

We left Zermatt on the train/shuttle in the morning and picked up our car from the very narrow carpark and headed north then west towards the town of Verbier. I knew nothing about this town except for what I’d seen on the race on Top Gear. My brother had the unenviable task of getting our lumbering SUV up the mountain switchbacks until we arrived at the town.

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Verbier

Anticipating zero parking and general chaos we dived straight into the first (or perhaps second) car park we found and parked up.  It took us all of about 15 minutes to explore the town before we settled on a restaurant for lunch – which might have been the Relais des Neiges. Despite the quite nippy temperatures we sat outside for the view. Mum practiced her French and German on the wait staff and we enjoyed various sandwiches.

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Verbier
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Verbier wasn’t busy at all

With that done we left town and headed in the direction of Montreux, another hour straight north. All was well on the road until we reached the outskirts of the town where we found ourselves at the end of a humongous traffic jam. It turned out there was a Christmas Market in town, and this being a Sunday everyone in Switzerland was trying to get there.

We crawled down the main street and thankfully our hotel was before the market and on the right side of the street, so my brother dropped us off at the front door. They were heading back to Geneva that night before flying back to the UK the next day.

We checked into the Eurotel Montreux, one of the two tallest buildings in town and probably quite an eyesore if you’re not staying in it.

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View from the Eurotel Montreux
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Christmas Markets

In our room we loafed about for a few minutes before opening the door to the tiny balcony and seeing the most spectacular sunset of our lives. It wasn’t just the colors reflecting off the lake and the snowy mountains, or the length of time it lasted, it was the extent of it: easily 50% of the whole sky was some shade of red. It was truly spectacular.

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No filter – it was really this color

Buoyed by the sunset we decided to brave the Christmas markets. Not really sure what dinner was going to entail we decided we’d have something from the market. It was absolutely heaving with people elbowing each other out of the way to get to the stalls selling wooden things, leather things, soap, food, toys and games and other excellent Christmas presents. We stocked up on gifts then I broke out my minimal French and managed to get us a couple of chocolate crepes. They were delicious.

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After this we struggled out of the market and walked along in the dark around the shoreline to see the city lights from a distance. Not having a tripod meant all my photos were hopeless, but it was pretty nonetheless.

The next morning we used free tickets provided by the hotel (the Montreux Riviera card) to take a local train to Chillon Castle. We wanted to get off at the station right next to the castle, but I overheard an announcement in French that “this train goes direct to Villeneuve.” No matter, we got off at Villeneuve and walked along the lake for about 20 minutes back to the castle.

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Walking back to Chillon Castle

Chillon Castle has undergone several centuries of change of ownership and renovations, including one currently taking place. According to the information sheet, the oldest written mention of the castle is in 1150. It sits on a small island and it apparently acted as a strategic location to control movement between north and south of Europe.

We followed the map around the whole castle exploring all the way from the cellar and the dungeons below the waterline to the very highest point of the castle – the keep. It was an impressive place.

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Chillon Castle
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Cellars
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Inside the castle walls
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It’s a little close to the modern world now

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Views from the Keep towards Montreux
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More views from the Keep

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After this we headed across the road to the Restaurant Taverne du Château de Chillon for soup and hot chocolate then walked by the side of the lake back to Montreux, passing manicured apartment blocks, the occasional restaurant, and a statue of Freddie Mercury.

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Walking back to Montreux
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Freddie Mercury

Back in Montreux we collected our luggage then went back to the train station to catch the train to our friends’ place in Versoix, just outside of Geneva. Unfortunately, our faith in the clockwork Swiss rail system was misplaced. There was some issue on the line which meant our connecting train in Lausanne was delayed, or we would need to get a different train, or something, and whatever was going on, the platform had changed. This was quite hard to figure out despite the announcement being in three languages. The conductor started in German (no clue), then went to French where I could pick up something of what was going on, but by the time he got to the English version, he obviously felt like he’d done enough, and just gave the barest of information. All of this was over a train intercom which sounded like the speaker was at the bottom of a well.

Anyway, because of this chaos, the train out of Lausanne was absolutely packed to the rafters, and at each stop about 10 school kids tried to board each carriage. There wasn’t an inch of space to be had, and of course, everyone was wearing their big coats because it was freezing outside. Lack of oxygen quickly became an issue. After about 45 mins of this, things settled down and we were able to get our coats off. Then it was straight into Versoix where our friends greeted us on the platform and took us to their apartment.

We spent the next 2 days in Geneva – post coming soon!

Posted in Travel

Cook Islands Essentials

We had a great Christmas week in the Cook Islands – and hopefully one day you will too! This post is a collection of some of the things to know before you go there: from the car hire experience to the food to the local flora and fauna. (You can read more about our holiday in my first post, second post and third post.)

Eating out in Raratonga

While we were planning this holiday, we weren’t sure what the food situation was going to be over Christmas so we booked the various lunches and dinners in advance. We had Christmas Eve dinner at Crown’s (see post) and Christmas Day lunch at Nautilus (see post). We had booked Boxing Day brunch back at Crown’s Ocean’s Restaurant and it turned out to be basically just the hotel breakfast, with eggs and bacon, cereal, cake, tea and coffee. It hit the spot however, and we also scored a couple of individual packets of Vegemite for later use!

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Because we were staying self-catering with a kitchen, we only ended up having two other dinners out. We chose a couple of restaurants that had free transfers from our accommodation. For dinner on the day of our epic cross island hike, we decided to go to Vaima Polynesian Bar and Restaurant. We started with cocktails and a local fish starter called Ika Mata (per the menu: A traditional Island delicacy… a delicious tropical combination of Fresh Tuna Fish marinated in reme (lemon) & creamy akari (coconut) served with tomatoes, red onions, cucumber, shallots and coriander) then fish and chips for me and fish curry (house special) for Jonathon. The food was excellent and even though we were completely full, we had key lime pie and pavlova for dessert. Our table was under palm trees in the sand with the waterline a stone’s throw away: very convenient for photographing the sunset.

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Ika Mata
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Fish Curry
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Fish ‘n’ Chips
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Pavlova
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Sunset from Vaima restaurant (300mm lens)

On our second last evening we went to dinner at “On the Beach” which was a restaurant not quite, but nearly, on the beach, part of the Manuia Beach Resort. I started with grilled and chilled ratatouille, which was possibly a mistake because it came in aspic and was just ok. Jonathon started with scallop and leek tart (spelled “leak” on the menu). For the main course we both had ocean fish: swordfish and somewhat rare yellowfin tuna. It was delicious. From our table we saw a beautiful sunset, which included another green flash.

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Sunset from On The Beach

Birds and animals in the Cook Islands

Stray dogs are a big feature of the island although it’s possible some of these dogs aren’t stray, just roaming free. During lunch on the deck one day, two local dogs came racing along the beach and threw themselves in the water, doing their best impression of gazelles. They appeared to be hunting the small fish that go around in schools in the shallows, and while they didn’t seem to catch any, they seemed to be having a good time. We saw the same thing – different dogs – on another day.

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This fella was waiting for me as I was walking on the beach then followed me most of the way home

There are also quite a few hens, chicks and roosters around. In fact, if you are unlucky you will be woken up by rooster. It was fun to see chicks following their mother hen around, and the roosters were quite pretty.

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Chicks!
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Rooster: half way up the hill on the cross island hike

Drive around the island of Raratonga

One thing to know about Raratonga is that it’s small. While it has an international airport it has just one road circling the island (and an inland road which is not continuous) which is 32 km (20 miles) long. One afternoon we decided to take an hour and drive the whole way around. The speed limit is 50 km/h (30 mph) and the road, while sealed, is pretty appalling most of the way. It probably took us 30 minutes to get up to the main town, Avarua, where we stopped at the (only?) post office to get stamps, and the handy shop next door for postcards. We found that the rest of the island was just as beautiful as the area we were staying: more of the same coconut palms, scattered houses, dogs, occasional food places, and glimpses of the magnificent lagoon.

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A sign greets you at each of the quadrants of the island
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Typical house and yard
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Bananas!
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Looking towards the center of the island
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Frangipani

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Car hire in the Cook Islands

While we are talking about driving, as mentioned in my first post, our experience of car hire was less than brilliant. We made allowances because we were picking up our car on Christmas Eve but we got the last car on the island and its warrant of fitness was going to expire during our rental.

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So, on Boxing Day, after breakfast we decided to solve this problem. We had spotted that the Island Car and Bike Hire branch near to Crown was open, so we parked up, and went inside. We explained that we’d been rented a car with a warrant that was expiring and could they sort it out please, and within 10 minutes we were driving away in a different car. It was the same model and color as the first, and had twice as many scrapes and dents, and what looked like at least one bald tire, but otherwise seemed in better working order.

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A fine model – Toyata Vitz

We used Island Car and Bike because they have a relationship with Sea Change Villas but I’m not sure we’d go with them again!

Supermarkets on Raratonga

As I mentioned in my first post, on Christmas Eve Wigmore’s supermarket was packed with people and there wasn’t much on the shelves to choose from. On Boxing Day, however, it was a different story: it a lot less busy with a lot more fresh items available.

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Inside Wigmore’s
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Inside Wigmore’s
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‘ei katu (head garland) for sale at Wigmore’s

On our around-the-island drive we also stopped at the main “big” supermarket – CITC supermarket – in Avarua. This had a lot more on offer than Wigmore’s, but the prices were the same (i.e. expensive). We stocked up on essentials like coke and chocolate and somehow our total was ~$40 NZD.

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Inside CITC supermarket

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Raratonga Lagoon activities

The lagoon is the main feature of the island of Raratonga. We were fortunate enough to be able to get into the water straight from our deck and Sea Change Villas had reef shoes, snorkels and masks, canoes and SUPs for use by the guests. The lagoon is not very deep and I was nearly always able to put my feet down. We spent a glorious amount of time in the water and got to recognize the different kinds of fish: the biggest one we saw was the size of a watermelon and there also were also a scattering of big blue starfish, and “giant” clams with blue mouths.

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The lagoon – the surf line indicates the reef barrier

A couple of times we went quite far out towards the reef barrier where there was much more coral – once in a canoe and once swimming. We had seen people go right up to the breaking waves in canoes, but we weren’t that brave/stupid.

We waited until the high tide each time we went out so we had some clearance.  We borrowed canoes and paddled quite far out but noticed we really couldn’t see fish from that vantage point high above the water. The coral was still worth it, as was just being out on the water.

The time we swam out as far as we could I found it quite hard work – perhaps we were going against the current or the tide. When we finally got to the dense coral we found it was all reef and no sandy spots to stop and rest! Still, we saw a lot of different fish as well as a more of the giant blue starfish and clams.

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Our look, multiple times a day

Our last day

Our flight back to LA left at nearly midnight and we were given use of the villa until our departure. The (mostly outdoor) airport was pretty chaotic but because everyone had been relaxing all week, so no-one was stressed out about anything.

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Last sunset of the holiday

Summary

The Cook Islands is truly a spectacular holiday destination. Everyone was extremely friendly in that antipodean, “she’ll be right”, “island time” kind of way. It seems like an ultra-laid-back version of New Zealand, if such a thing were possible.

Our accommodation at Sea Change Villas was all around excellent, having great lagoon access, high quality furnishings, a well-equipped kitchen and lots of peace and quiet. The car rental situation was fairly dodgy but also fairly cheap, much safer than riding a bicycle or a scooter, and more convenient than trying to catch the bus. Food was expensive, but when one remembers that in restaurants you don’t have to tip, it’s actually not bad – the restaurants we went to had NZD $30-$35 mains.

There are plenty of outdoor activities, and equally all the time in the world to just sit and look at the view. I realize we got lucky with the weather – normally at this time of year it rains more. Being pretty well cut off from mobile and internet access was a real plus.

I would highly recommend the Cook Islands as a place to visit, but at the same time, I don’t want any more tourists to come and spoil it!

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Sea Change Villas from the lagoon

Things to know about the Cook Islands

  1. The time zone in Cook Islands at Christmas is just -2hrs from LA (12pm LA time = 10am Cook Islands time)
  2. The power and sockets are Australia/NZ.
  3. The currency is the NZ dollar, although you can pick up some Cook Islands coins.
  4. Cook Islanders drive on the left and the max speed is 50 km/h (30 mph)
  5. On AT&T it costs $3/min to call and 50c per text. There is no cellular data. Google Fi has no reception.
  6. The water is apparently safe to drink, though we only drank to bottled water.
  7. Christmas time is the rainy season.
  8. When arriving at Raratonga from LAX, sit on the left side of the plane to catch the sunrise, or on the right side of the plane for a view of the island on landing. On departure to LAX, it’s night time so you can’t see anything from either side!

Check out my previous posts:

Cook Islands – first impressions

Cook Islands – Christmas Day

Jungle and Lagoon: Raratonga, Cook Islands

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Have you been to the Cook Islands? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!